GCSEs attainment gap for deaf children closes!

Image courtesy of http://www.deafblog.co.uk

With the new ice age upon London, I came across some good news the other day that warmed the cockles of my heart.

After years of stagnation, the attainment gap between deaf children and other children is finally beginning to close with provisional government figures showing deaf children making a big leap in the last year. Last year, 29% of deaf children achieved the government’s benchmark for GCSE success. This year, it’s 36%, compared to 66% of children with no special educational needs.

The attainment gap is still pretty wide and there are still far too many deaf children under achieving. But the new figures do at least hold out the promise that the National Deaf Children’s Society’s campaign work to close the gap has begun to have an impact. By shining a spotlight on how many deaf children under achieve and banging on about the injustice of it, I hope the campaign has led to higher expectations for deaf children and better results. Not that I want to take all the credit for these figures…

Of course, all of this could be placed at risk if local authorities make massive cuts to their services for deaf children. NDCS is continuing to call on decision-makers to protect funding for these vital services. Members of the public can show their support by contacting their local councillors about this issue.

But for now, a nice piece of news to enter the Christmas holidays with.


New figures on deaf children’s under achievement at primary school

Some government statistics on how children do in exams at the end of primary school came out last week. An early Christmas present for data geeks like me from the Department for Education.

Anyhow, what do the figures say about deaf children?

The good news is that deaf children are doing slightly better than they were five years ago.

The bad news is that this is a small consolation given that there are still far too many deaf children not achieving expected levels of progress. In English, a whopping 47% of deaf children left primary school without achieving expected levels of literacy, compared to just 7 of children with no special educational need. The figures are not much better for Maths.

One of the key messages from NDCS’s Hands up for help! campaign is that deaf children are not getting a fair chance to achieve. These new figures pretty much confirm this. The big worry now is that if lots of councils now make cuts to help for deaf children, any small gains will be reversed and an unfair situation will get even more unfair.

What do you think of the figures? As always, leave a comment below to have your say.

Publishing more information on how deaf children are doing

Image courtesy of NDCS

The second recommendation in the National Deaf Children’s Society Hands up for help! campaign report is probably the one quickest to turn me into angry deaf man mode.

The Government must require local authorities to publish information about the level and performance of services for deaf children so families can assess whether their child is getting a fair chance at school.

NDCS did their own survey of local authorities because a lot of the information they needed on what help deaf children are getting wasn’t out there. Many services replied quickly and fully, which was great. Others did so under suffrance. NDCS is still waiting for replies from a handful. If NDCS has these problems, what about parents? Well, when we asked parents of deaf children to let us know of their experiences for the campaign report, one mother in London replied:

“It’s not easy for parents to know what the best educational options and choices there are for deaf children. There is very small provision in the units [for deaf children], which now seems the best option for my child, but I did not even know about this provision until I heard about it from other parents!”

Amazing. Why had no-one in the local authority told her? Why wasn’t the information out there in a place, easy to find, so that she could see for herself what options were available in her area? As for information about how deaf children are doing in her local authority or how many people are employed to help deaf children? Forget about it. There’s a real absence of any specific or local information about the education of deaf children, and I think it’s completely unacceptable.

Why isn’t more information published? One clue came from a meeting the other day I went to where a Head of Service for deaf children said that she suggested that some local data on deaf children’s outcomes shouldn’t be published as it might be “used as a stick to beat her with”. How awful, I thought. If more information was published, it might be used to ask impudent questions like “are the services for deaf children doing a good job?”. How impertinent! God forbid that someone might actually try to hold her to account for the service she’s providing to deaf children?!

Another excuse, and one that makes me most annoyed, is that this kind of information can’t be published because it would be “meaningless” and that each service is different, you can’t compare and that a service is actually “good” might come across as “bad”. I think such arguments patronise the intelligence of parents of deaf children. I also find it arrogant – who are professionals to decide what information should or shouldn’t be available to parents? Surely a good service has nothing to fear from being open about how it is run? Surely a good service would welcome any opportunity to tell everyone what a great job they’re doing?

Sure, publishing data takes time. And if you’ve never done it before, it’s going to take a while to set the systems up. But it does need to be done, if parents are going to be able to exercise informed choice about how to support their deaf child. I’ve met some fantastic professionals in my time working to support deaf children and I still have happy memories of the people who supported me and insisted that my mainsteam teachers have high expectations of what I could do. I also know that some professionals and Teachers of the Deaf are as frustated as I am about the resistence to seeing more information available to parents. This resistance, I think, discredits the whole profession and I think it’s time to start challenging such views.

New data about deaf children published

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A few weeks back, the Department for Children, Schools and Families published a report with lots of data about children with special educational needs. For a geek like me, it was a dream come true. Pages and pages of spreadsheets and percentages and important footnotes to pore over. Sigh…

Anyhow, the report had its origins in the Special Educational Needs (Information) Act 2008. Sharon Hodgson MP pushed hard for this and NDCS was among a group of charities lobbying hard for it. The Act aims to shine a spotlight on special educational needs in the hope of galvanising Government to take action to improve outcomes. The report brings together lots of information for the first time on children who have been formally recognised as having a special educational need (i.e those who have a formal statement of need or who have been placed at ‘school action plus’ and are getting extra help that way). So it doesn’t include information on all deaf children, and needs to be used with caution, etc. but what information it does have makes for fascinating reading (assuming you’re a geek like me). And also depressing, when you see the full extent of the poorer outcomes that deaf children experience.

A few of the interesting statistics that I’ve picked up so far include…

* In 2009, there were 14,770 deaf children formally identified as needing support. 500 more than last year.

* There are more boys recorded as having a hearing impairment: 7670 boys to 7100 girls.

* More analysis needed but it appears that children from an Asian background are more likely to have a hearing impairment. Of all Asian children with a statement, 7.8% were hearing impaired, compared to 2.5% for white children with a statement.

* The number of deaf children recorded drops dramatically at the age of 16. At age 15, there are 570 children with a hearing impairment with statements, dropping to 240 at age 16. We’re left wondering what happens to these children; whether they leave school, continue in further education with support or cease to receive any support at all.

* 4.9% of deaf children recorded are likely were defined as persistent absentees in 2007-08, compared to 2.4% of children with no identified need. Deaf girls are more likely to be defined as persistent absentees than deaf boys.

And that’s just for starters. Much of the data raises more questions than it answers. But this is not necessarily a bad thing before – the lack of any data before meant that we didn’t know what questions we needed to be asking.

I’m off on holiday next week – don’t worry, I won’t be taking the spreadsheets with me for holiday reading – but am looking forward to looking through the data in more detail and getting a full report on NDCS’s website. In the meantime, what do you think of the data so far? Anything surprising or particularly shocking in there? Anything missing you really want to know?

Data on how deaf children are doing at school – now out

Last week, while I was sunning myself on holiday, NDCS published the data given to us by the Department for Children, Schools and Families on how deaf children do in their GCSEs in England in 2008. They don’t make for pleasant reading:

Only 28% of deaf children got five GCSEs at grades A* to C (including English and Maths) compared to 48% of all children. Put in another way, nearly three quarters of deaf children leave secondary school having failed to hit the Government’s expected benchmark of success.

27% of deaf children hit the same benchmark in 2007, so deaf children are doing slightly better. However, all children are doing better too. As a result, the attainment gap between deaf children and all children has widened between 2007 and 2008. When we do the number crunching, we see that in 2008, deaf children were 42% less likely to as well in their GCSEs than all children.

Given that deafness is not a learning disability, 42% is a pretty big attainment gap. We’ll be doing some media work to highlight this gap and to support our ongoing campaign to close the gap.

We also have data for each of the regions in England. London fares as the region where deaf children are least likely to do as well as all children. Here, a deaf children is 50% less likely to hit the Government’s expected benchmark for success than all children.

This is the first time much of the data has been made available. Some is already hidden away on DCSF’s website in a different format – but DCSF have not published regional data, information on the attainment gaps and details of three year averages. They’ve passed this information to us because we asked for it, and have been happy for us to go ahead and publish it for them.

DCSF’s website also contains information about how other groups of children get on. I haven’t checked for this year but in the past, the gap in achievement between deaf children and all children was greater than that between a) boys and girls and b) white boys and black Caribbean boys. The achievements of all children is obviously important – but it is striking how much attention has been placed on the latter two attainment gaps.

What do you think about the gaps in attainment? Are you surprised that it’s not narrowing? And what does the Government need to do to start closing the gap?

Data on how deaf children are doing at school

Apparently, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. And then there’s a new category: figures relating how deaf children get on at school.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families have given us the latest figures on the attainment of deaf children and we intend to publish them next Tuesday with some accompanying analysis and a pretty little spreadsheet. I don’t think it will come as a huge surprise when I say the figures will confirm that there is still a large attainment gap between deaf children and all children. We’ll be doing some media work to promote the figures and to call for more support for deaf children at schools.

At the same time, I’m bracing myself for a barrage of tut-tutting. The figures are quite controversial in some quarters because they don’t include all deaf children, only those who are getting specialist support at schools. Some have argued it’s misleading to use these figures and that it demoralises professionals.

I take a different view. The figures are not perfect but they are still the best available. No evidence has been provided to suggest the figures are unrepresentative or that there is not a wide attainment gap between deaf children and their hearing peers. If there was, I’d quite happily go home and watch Hollyoaks all day.

I see the point about demoralising staff. Which is why we’re always careful to say that we think professionals are dedicated and doing a good job with a lack of wider support and funding from their local authority and central Government. In any event, should professionals working with deaf children be exempt from wider discussion and scrutiny about how deaf children are doing?

Finally, the data is used for an important end – to shine the spotlight on the education of deaf children and to persuade Government to take action. If we held off from ever using data unless it was 100% verifiable and perfect, then we may never be able to make the case for action. And all the time, the education of deaf children would suffer. And that’s not acceptable.

It’s going to be interesting to see the reaction. In the meantime, what do you think? Are we right to publish the data and to use it to shine a spotlight on education of deaf children.

Better communication, better data and better outcomes for deaf children

Some festive good news came last week with the publication of a Government action plan on speech and language therapy, called Better Communication. The action plan followed the Bercow review, where the Conservative backbencher MP of the same name led a review on services for children with speech, language and communication needs. The action plan sets out a range of things the Government will do to improve such services.

And, to our surprise, the action plan committed the Department for Children, Schools and Families, to looking into collecting data on all children with special educational needs AND by type of disability from 2011. In terms of deaf children, we currently only have data on how deaf children who getting a high level of support are doing. If the Department goes ahead, this announcement means that for the first time we will have information on how ALL deaf children are doing.

This is a big step forward and is one of the recommendations from our campaign report, Must do better!, on the educational under achievement of deaf children. After all, we cannot improve the attainment of deaf children if it is not being measured in the first place. Better data also arms parents, local authorities and NDCS with the means to work out which schools and areas are doing best and, basically, what works.

On that positive note, I’m off for my Christmas break. Thanks to all for reading this and for their comments – do keep leaving your thoughts on these musings. Otherwise, have a great break and see you in 2009!